So you're interested in taking a river cruise.

They sound fabulous, right? Wining, dining, and touring all over Europe without a care in the world - what's not to love?

But then you keep scrolling down the page to see the cost of the river cruise. It says "starting at" or "from" next to the price, which you know could mean more than what's listed. 

You may be thinking, is this really worth it?

The short answer is YES, absolutely!

But for those of you who like to run the numbers and see the analysis, let me show you why I think it's worth it...

Parliament in the evening in Budapest

There's other ways to explore Europe besides taking a river cruise, of course. For example, you could travel around independently or you could join a multi-day guided tour. 

Let's compare the relative costs of a river cruise against each of those options along with the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision you feel confident about. 

1. River Cruise vs. an Independent, Self-Guided Trip

For comparison sake, let's say you would like to do a similar itinerary and have a similar quality experience as a river cruise, but you'd like to do it on your own.

Estimated DAILY Costs for 2 people*

  • $350: 4 to 5-star hotel 
  • $250: 3 multi-course meals (including alcoholic drinks)
  • $350: Guided tours (assuming group tours, private tours are easily $1000/day in Europe)
  • $250: Transportation (between and around cities, moving cities about every day)
  • Daily Total = $1200 for 2 people

Weekly Total = $8400 for 2 people!

*Costs will vary by city you visit, how long you stay in each place, where you stay and what you do. But again, we're attempting to compare apples to apples.

Pros

Cons

  • Make your own itinerary and self-select every component of the trip
  • It's a lot of work to plan, unless you use a travel advisor to piece everything together
  • If something goes wrong, you have to deal with it
  • Figuring out the logistics of how to get between cities, find your hotel, and the restaurants you want to try
  • You have to be your own translator
  • Packing and unpacking with every new city
Typical Houses in Strasbourg

2. River Cruise vs. a Guided Tour

As above, multi-day guided group tour prices vary greatly by company, itinerary, and level of service. 

If you want something similar to the experiences that you could get on a luxury river cruise, here are comparable luxury tour operators offering one week guided tours in Europe:

  • Tauck: Starting at $4600 per person ($9,200 per couple)
  • Abercrombie & Kent: Starting at $5,000 per person ($10,000 per couple)
  • Backroads (active tours): Starting at $5,300 per person ($10,600 per couple) for 6 days

Are there cheaper tours around Europe? Yes, of course, but the costs above reflect a high level of service and high quality experiences. 

Pros

Cons

  • Pre-arranged tours and a high level of service
  • Camaraderie from meeting other people in the group throughout the week
  • Assistance in case anything goes wrong
  • Transportation between cities is typically by motor coach bus or small van with no opportunity to walk around and stretch your legs
  • Packing and unpacking with each new city (generally switching hotels every 1-2 nights)
  • You see more highways than scenic towns dotting Europe's rivers while traveling
  • Unable to travel to different places at night like you can on a river cruise, losing valuable time to explore during the daytime

The biggest con on this list is the time you lose in transportation between cities. Would you rather spend your days on the highway or out exploring cities?

Why waste time packing and unpacking and driving to different destinations every day when you could wake up in a new town, ready to explore in the morning! 

Nuremberg Buildings

Summary

Aside from comparing costs, the biggest factor you should consider when making your decision is your time. 

Your time is priceless.

Consider the hours of planning it takes to organize an independent trip (unless of course you use a travel advisor like myself!) OR the time you lose on a land-based guided trip packing and unpacking every night and transportation time during the day. You can't get those hours back.

What is that time (especially precious vacation hours!) worth to you?  

Ultimately, it's your decision on what type of trip is the best fit for you and your travel style. I hope this analysis was helpful to you. If so, leave a comment below!

Ready for the next step?

Take my quiz to find out which Rhine or Danube river cruise is best for you.

If you've already done that, click the button below to get a free quote for a river cruise that fits your preferences and schedule so you can compare the exact costs against my analysis above!